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Charles IVES (1874-1954) String Quartet No.1: From the Salvation Army (1896) [21:46]
Scherzo (ca.1907-14) [1:42]
String Quartet No.2 (1911-13) [26:59]
Blair String Quartet
rec. Ingram Hall, Blair School of Music, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee
5, 6, 8 March 2004. NAXOS 8.559178 [50:19]
is an accomplished pairing of the Ives quartets, which also
gives us the brief sliver of a Scherzo, all 1:42 of it and
written in Ives’s challenging idiom. The Blair Quartet knows
better than to garnish the early student work with timbral
and syntactical complexities it doesn’t possess. Though a
work that would clearly have displeased Ives’s teacher Horatio
Parker it does valuable service for the lay listener in revealing
Ives’s development in his very early twenties.
command of harmonious balance is evident here and the subtle
employment of his trademark hymn tunes – or perhaps deployment
is a more apposite word – is to me at least thoroughly convincing.
Of course one can advance the idea that Ives was not yet
fully Ives but I suspect listeners coming to this music with
a blank sheet will find much here to enjoy. The infiltrated
and transformed hymnal tunes certainly reinforce the quartet’s
original title From the Salvation Army. But thescherzo
shows some Mendelssohnian fleetness of finger. Maybe a parallel
with early Bridge is not entirely misplaced though the two
composers are in other respects very different. But what
is unmistakeable is the indebtedness of the young Ives to
Dvořák, whose freshness and immediacy must have proved
so attractive – and whose folkloric elements must have strongly
appealed to Ives and his own use of demotic. The use of the
hymnal material is accompanied by a lightly cyclical plan.
Second Quartet is Ives in his early maturity, written between
1911 and 1913. The perplexing and sudden conjunctions, conflations,
revelations, quotations and miasmic cuts are all firmly evident.
But the somewhat tersely romanticised opening doesn’t quite
prepare one for the fulminous writing to come – unceasingly
powerful chromaticism. Here the quotations abound in tense,
often hallucinatory rapidity – the hymnal, quotations from
other composers (principally Beethoven and Brahms) as well
as brief allusions to Marching through Georgia and
the like. The means at his disposal are powerful – tremolandi
and intense unisons included - and they culminate in the
superb final movement which ends with a three-against-one
finale in which the gaunt, relentless cello ostinato repeatedly
challenges his companions.
recording is a touch distant; the hall used doesn’t sound
to have been especially warm though this is a relatively
minor matter. The playing is involved and involving and conveys
Ives’s journey from late Romanticism to modernism with conviction.
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